It’s taken more than two thousand years but one of Ireland’s most popular sports has finally taken the leap across the Atlantic.
Hurling combines elements of baseball, lacrosse, field hockey, soccer, and handball into one sport dubbed as “the fastest game on grass.”
“I feel like American sports really prepare us to play this sport. In fact, I feel like every sport that I’ve played in America was training for this sport and it’s absolutely the most fun game I’ve ever played,” said Kevin Pearson, President of the Naperville Hurling Club.
Pearson first heard of Hurling while on a trip to Ireland in 1997 with his wife. When he returned in 2012 with his family, they were on a mission to find out more about the sport. What they found was that the Gaelic Athletic Association, GAA, is to Ireland like the MLB is to America.
“Hurling and Gaelic football are the two national sports of Ireland and hurling is absolutely the biggest sport that exists in Ireland. They play in a place called Croke Park in Dublin and it’s an 80,000 person stadium and they fill it up every year,” said Pearson.
In 2013, the GAA made $4.5 million during its Senior Hurling Final – with that kind of popularity, it was bound to make its way overseas. To get a better idea of the game, Pearson invited me out to Player’s Indoor Sports to try Hurling for the first time. So I grabbed a Hurley and sloitar (pronounced “slit-ter”) and got started.
“The first rule of hurling is that you can’t lift the ball off the ground with your hands so if it’s rolling or sitting on the ground you have to lift it with something other than your hands,” said Pearson. “The primary way to do that is to use your stick, or hurley, and if you look at the hurley you’ll notice that one end is fat and one end is cut like an ax, and what you do is you use that ax side to lift up the sloitar off the ground.”
Once you get the sloitar in your hand, you can take four steps before you have to do something with the ball, either hit it back to yourself, or pass it to your teammates with the hurley as a hand pass.
On an outdoor pitch, the goal resembles a soccer net, but there are goal posts coming up from each end. You can try to hit the sloitar in from any location on the field, and if it goes past the goalie into the net, it’s worth three points. If it goes above the net, thorough the goalposts, it’s worth one point. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.
However, the Naperville Hurling Club plays indoors where there’s only the net, so all points must make it past the goalie. The club meets on Sundays and has youth and adult programs.
“One thing I love about clubs like Naperville is that they come in with such a clean slate, everybody is starting at the same level be it kids or adults who are starting at the same level also. So they’re sponges, they want to learn, they work hard, and they’re ready to listen and be coached which is wonderful,” said Colm Egan, Games Development Officer for the Gaelic Athletic Association.
Because of that “clean slate” aspect, hurling is for any age and any skill level.
“There is a lot of skill in the game but we are also a really great team. I think every time I’m learning more,” said player, Nicole Walker. “I started out with the basics, they’re really helpful at teaching you, the club in general, there is a lot but it’s like any other sport in general, you want to score and you want to hit the ball.”
Considering two years ago there was no club for hurling in town and now there’s four full adult teams, you could say the sport is gaining interest around town, and the players all have the same thing to tell you.
“I would say just come out and try it,” said Walker.
“Try it,” said Alec Dickson.
“Give it a try,” said Ireland native, Ciara Conaghan.
“Let’s just play,” said Saoirse Conaghan.
For more information on the club and how you can get started, visit napervillehurling.com.